A Man



October interview with Allan Podbelsek

My kids tease me about being an “old man” at 55. My response to them is, “… you should live so long!”

Indigenous tribes honored their elders for not only their wisdom, but for the living reality they embodied of enduring through so many difficult years of life.

Like on an NWTA, the Elder blesses a man on a carpet before his descent into personal work, giving the initiate support and encouragement to aid him in the upcoming struggle, and then afterwards, the Elder acknowledges the man’s success and welcomes him back home into the community.



Robert Bly said at the MKP World Elder Gathering in 2006 that an Elder is a man who has experienced the wound and moved through it to a point of healing. He then has acquired the ability to give others hope that they too can bear the vicissitudes of life in a good way and live a long life.



My experience with Allan Podbelsek - a 70-years-old man who was initiated at Bedford, Indiana in Oct 1993 - is of a man who has found that good grace and good humor through his years of living. He has served as MKP’s Elder Chair for the past three years in an exemplary way.



(BTW, kudos to Gene McMahon, the new Elder Chair!)



Allan is a serious man, and yet he maintains a smile and a listening ear for the men he encounters in our organization.



He shared with me the evolution of the Elder Body, starting in 1995, when the first work of reclaiming the elder as part of the MKP culture took place.



“Prior to 1995, Elders showed up on weekends, with no guidelines from the national Project,” Allan said. “In 1995 we first began a loosely organized approach of trying out rituals and different protocol pieces. It was a time of trial and error, bumping up against the leaders of the weekend, figuring out where we fit in, and how we could best serve the initiates. Eventually, we created the Elder Council and made a commitment to create guidelines to train MKP elders who were by then referred to as ‘Ritual Elders.’ While the Ritual Elder was developing to help elders serve effectively on NWTAs, there was also a parallel development which began recognizing the energy of all elders across the Project.”



“In MKP, we refer to Declared Elders as men 50 years or older who have felt within themselves a calling to own their mature energy,” he continued. “It’s an arbitrary choice. It’s up to the local community to invite and acknowledge such men in a circle of Elders.”



Your humble correspondent, at the age of 50, was invited by Bill Kauth at Glen Ivy to step into my Elder hood. I was blessed by the assembled circle of Elders. It changed my life, and eventually my animal name, “Elder Grizzly with Blue Jay.”



According to Allan, some processes for recognizing men as Declared Elders are more intense than others.



“I tell the man who is claiming himself a Declared Elder what it means for me to be an Elder, what my experiences are, and how I hope to show up in the community. If he’s going to staff, I tell him to show up with some of that part of him that is an Elder. In our Declared Elder processes, I like our Elders to give attention to the man declaring. I ask the man, ‘What is calling you to be an Elder? And, why now? What are you seeing yourself called to do?’ Elders present then give the man feedback on his answers. Finally we create a ritual where that man stands and declares his Eldership.”



It’s inevitable, Allan told me, that a man who becomes a member of MKP will see Elders on his weekend, will go back to his community and see Elders in circles or councils, and he’ll start hearing things about being an Elder, seeing things that involve elders, and he will sit with Elders and converse with them. Eventually, he’ll feel a calling to where he belongs.



“I didn’t say I want to be a Declared Elder from any internal motivation. It wasn’t until other men said to me that they saw Elder energy in me. In 1995, I was with Don Jones at the first Elder Gathering. I was 57 at the time. I heard many men say, ‘I see Elder energy in you.’ I started to do a self-examination. I spent the entire weekend uncertain what it was to be an Elder. At one point in time, when I was alone, this thing just fell on me … giving me chills. Something kind of fell on me that resonated in my body. The part where the Elder resides suddenly was ignited and rumbled through me. I began to see things, and feel things. It was an awakening.”



So, Allan, help me define exactly what it means to be an Elder and to bless men.



“An Elder speaks and men listen. He shows up and men pay attention. Men are attracted to him because he’s older and they feel safe with him. He’s one who cares and is concerned about the man. Men want to sit with an Elder and ask questions, knowing they will not be judged. An Elder is a good supportive friend or mentor.”



Allan, what is it like for you to be an Elder?



“In my Elder, I’m able to see the man for himself. I interact from personal experience. I am able to create a ritual space. There’s no book to turn to, except the one within myself. When a man is looking for Elder support, I step in and help him learn. I offer blessings. And, I continue to do my work and travel my elder journey.”



“How many men has Robert Bly talked about that did NOT get a blessing from their father? The word blessing is not deeply entrenched in our society. Too many men say they have NOT been blessed. I say they have been blessed somewhere along the line from somebody, they just haven’t remembered it.”



The Elder Chair told a story from Rich Tosi who said one day he was watching young crows getting ready to leave their nest for the first time. Tosi said he felt fear that they couldn’t fly. Then it dawned on him that they did know how to fly, they just had to be reminded.



“In the same way, there are men who say it’s too scary to move on in their personal development,” Allan continued. “They just have to be reminded that being a man is in their genes – we already know how to be men, but we have to be reminded. And, if we take the risk, we’ll find a new life of free flight.”



Allan said he wasn’t blessed a lot in his family growing up, but he was he blessed outside the family. “I think about those times I was blessed, and I use that memory to bless others.”



Tell me more about how Ritual Elders and Certified Leaders interact on an NWTA.



“An important aspect for me is communication. There’s a tendency for Elders to be in their group and Leaders in theirs, without a good connection. To address that issue, I like to contact the Leader of the weekend a month before hand and ask him what he sees for the upcoming weekend. I like to have a conversation with him and get clear on how we will work with each other so there’s a mutual trust and building of shared responsibilities, including interpersonal, cultural, and institutional issues.”



Good communication is one of the “hot issues” in MKP right now, he added.



“It’s an education process for the Elders and Leaders. From the Elder side, I’m proposing that we Ritual Elders develop our own form of a covenant that WE sign, thus holding ourselves accountable to serve men on the NWTA weekend.”



“I don’t want to create any more hoops that Ritual Elders have to jump through with some mandate from above … especially because we don’t get paid like the Leaders do. However, I want to build something organically within our own group of Ritual Elders that encourages us to be at our best. The initial attempt at this development took place at the Ritual Elder Workshop preceding the World Elder Gathering in September.”



It’s true that we have more older men than younger men in our organization. How do you account for that?



“Robert Bly said that men have to get old enough and bumped around enough to think maybe things aren’t working right before they’re willing to take a look at themselves. You’re right, we’re still tending to be a white middle-aged men’s organization. It seems most of the younger men brought into MKP do so because of their fathers or other older men. The Boys To Men organization is a great way to bring younger men to our work.”



So, where are we right now in this men’s work?



“We’re at a crossroads. My view is that we have to decide how we’re going to represent ourselves to the world. We are seen by some groups as a cult …. I know were not, but sometimes, in my judgment, some of our actions and behaviors are seen from the outside in that way. Our goal is to be inclusive – we say all men are welcome. Unfortunately, not all men get that message in a good way. I’d like the Elders of MKP to help lead the way in creating and holding sacred space for all men to come and get what they need.” - RB


© 2008, Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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